Blue stragglers, according to NASA, “are older stars that acquire a new lease on life when they collide and merge with other stars.”1 But a new study calls into question whether stellar collisions can account for these remarkable stars. And blue stars burn their fuel so quickly that they actually look young.
Since their discovery, evolutionary astronomers have sought a way to explain how these stars can even exist. They burn fuel so fast that they should have burned out billions of years ago. American astronomers Aaron Geller and Robert Mathieu published in Nature a description of their model for how older stars could have acquired a “new lease on life” by siphoning matter from nearby gas giant stars through “mass transfer.”2
They investigated stars within a cluster called NGC 188, found in the constellation Cepheus. It contains 21 blue stragglers, 16 of which are binary stars that closely interact with nearby stars. The researchers suspected that the blue stragglers’ partners were white dwarfs, which would be small, leftover remnants of larger red stars that the blue ones had drained of fuel. Such dwarfs are too faint for direct observation, but they have sufficient mass to cause their partner stars to wobble.
Of the 16 binaries, 12 had rotational periods right at 1,000 days and were thus called “long-period” blue stragglers. The study authors ran a statistical analysis that showed “the theoretical and observed [mass] distributions are indistinguishable.”2 In other words, their theory that other stars “fed” these 12 blue stragglers matched well with what they observed.
But did this reconcile the relative youthfulness of these binary blue stars with their assumed billions of years of history? The answer is no. The authors wrote, “Blue straggler stars…should already have evolved into giant stars and stellar remnants,”2 and their new observations do not solve this deep-time problem….
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